Hendrick cars outduel DEI at Daytona

Hendrick horsepower conquered the DEI powerplants to score a 1-2 finish for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the Pepsi 400. Gordon and Johnson blasted to the front with seven laps to go, with Gordon earning the victory from the pole.

Jeff Gordon.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
"Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a big one," commented Gordon of his fifth Daytona victory. "We had a lot of guys challenging us at the end. I owe this to Jimmie Johnson. He gave me a push that no one else out there would have given me.

"Next time he is going to get a push from me."

Tony Stewart had the lead of the event after a two-tire stop at lap 140 propelled him up the ladder. Stewart held off the hard-charging Hendrick Chevy's until the races closing laps, when the No. 24 and the No. 48 hooked up in the draft to rocket past the No. 20 Chevy.

Teammate Johnson, pushed Gordon to his 68th career win, and fourth of the season. It's the second consecutive win for Gordon, who also won last weekend at Infineon Raceway.

"My car drove so good tonight," Gordon said. "My hats are off to these guys. Yesterday we just didn't have the feel we were looking for. My guys went to work and gave me a great piece tonight."

The win is a huge impetus for the No. 24 Chevy team, who is in the hunt for their fifth Cup series championship.

"I tell you what, it makes me feel pretty darn good right now," said Gordon of his chances for the fifth ring. "What a way to get momentum to just be so strong week in and week out on totally different types of race tracks. I think Charlotte lit a fire underneath us. We had a miserable day and embarrassed ourselves.

"This team has been on a mission ever since."

Johnson earned second, but it seemed as if the push was only a courtesy after Johnson realized he didn't have the assistance from Earnhardt to make a run for the checkered flag.

"It was a great race," Johnson said. "I wish the 8 could have tucked in behind us and we could have made a run on the No. 24. We are here to win the race.

"The No. 8 just didn't get back to me in time to give me the push I needed."

Daytona's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did not seem to have the horsepower to fight Hendrick freight train. Bump-drafting from the No. 97 of Kurt Busch almost got the No. 8 back to the catbird seat, but an ill-handling race car in combination with teammate, Michael Waltrip stagnated in 13th spot, relegated Earnhardt to a third place result.

"We were trying to make a run on him (Gordon)" Earnhardt said. "We just didn't have the car to get by him. I had a terrible day in the pits. My crew really wasn't on their game today. We stayed out on the race track and lost a lot of track position one time and got a long ways behind the pack and just didn't make a bunch of right calls.

"But to win these races, you've got to get out front and I thought we knew that, but we didn't try to do that."

Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart completed the top five.

"We gambled there and took two tires," Stewart said. "It got us good track position. My problem was I just couldn't hold them off. We were just too tight there and they got a big run on us. It was fun. It was good to get up there in the top-five today. It was a big improvement from where the car was in happy hour to race time."

After a two-hour-and-change delay due to inclement weather, the green/yellow flag finally flew on the Pepsi 400 at 9:36 pm EST. Rain continued to pepper the track, as NASCAR began running the field behind the pace car, in an effort to get the race completed. NASCAR ran the field under eight laps of caution before throwing the green flag.

The evening's only multi-car crash came at lap 17, as Matt Kenseth and Ward Burton got together in turn 2. During the incident they also collected the No. 49 of Kenny Schrader and the No. 32 of Ricky Craven.

"Something happened to Ward, a flat tire or something," said Kenseth. "As I tried to pass him, someone got into me and we just went around."

Jimmie Johnson continues to lead series rankings by 27 points over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Gordon (-232), Tony Stewart (-342) and Matt Kenseth (-356) complete the top five.